Tuesday, August 21, 2012

LOS ANGELES — In Hollywood, everyone wants to be a director. The actors. The shoe salesmen. You can stop a 5-year-old, ask him if he wants an ice cream, and he’ll say, “Yeah! ... But I really want to direct.”

I have no such desires. I write. That’s enough. By the time I finish most of my work, I never want to look at it again, much less film it.

But life is funny. A few months ago, a friend named Jon Avnet (who produced “Risky Business” and directed “Fried Green Tomatoes”) asked me to write a short script for a new YouTube Web channel he and a pal were starting up called “WIGS.” No real money. More of a one-ime fun thing.

So I did it. A little 12-minute story. I gave it to Jon. And he said: “Great. You want to direct it?”

And I said ... “Nah.”

(“IDIOT!” I hear everyone shouting. “Who turns DOWN a chance to direct? Were you BORN stupid?” Well. No. Not that I recall.)

I said I had no idea how to direct. He said he would help me. I said why would anyone listen to me? He said they’d listen to him.

“OK, Jon, fine,” I said. “As long as you sit next to me the entire time.”

“Absolutely.”

I arrived for shooting. And there was Jon, drinking a coffee. And I sat down in the wooden director’s chair, looked over ...

And he was gone.

Now let me set the stage here. (Oops. Does that sound like I’m directing?) Our lead actress was the wonderful Catherine O’Hara, star of the “Home Alone” series, “Beetlejuice” and hysterical movies like “Best in Show” and “A Mighty Wind.” I am awed by her comic talent. So when I met her, compelled to be as cool as possible (since I was, after all, her director), I shook her hand and shared this creative thought:

“I don’t know what I’m doing.”

She smiled nervously. I asked how she saw her role. “Oh, God, don’t ask me,” she said, almost panicked. She then related how, when she directed her first piece, she made the mistake of inviting input from the crew. From that moment on, she had 700 people in her ear.

“Just tell me what you want,” she said.

“You got it,” I said.

I frantically looked for Jon.

Meanwhile, our other star was Anthony (Cass) Castelow, who is from Detroit. He played a homeless man. Cass actually was homeless for a while, and he now works with other homeless folks at a Detroit church. In other words, he is not an actor, which I thought was perfect. Until I realized I had to direct him.

“Ready?” everyone was asking. The lighting people, the grips, the makeup folks, the sound guys.

“What do I do?” I whispered to someone.

“You say ‘action,’” he whispered back.

“Oh.” I swallowed. “Uh ... action?”

The next two days were insane. Cameramen asking if we wanted the “75” or the “50”? Lighting people calling for gobos and bounce boards. A rain machine. (A rain machine?) Things flew by so fast that all I basically learned was to yell “action” and “cut” and ask the actors if they wanted water.

But here’s the thing. When you are a director, they have these people called “assistant directors.” And apparently, in California, the word “assistant” means “do everything.”

And they did. They did the yelling, the pointing, the running, the troubleshooting. And after they finished, they’d turn to me and say, “What do you think?”

And I’d fold my arms and say, “Wellllll ...”

Which is what directing is, I’ve concluded. That long “Wellllll...” As if your brilliant mind is considering all the mathematical permutations when, in fact, you have no clue where that rain came from.

And then we were done.

I have seen the finished product. It’s actually very funny. Titled “Leslie,” it starts showing Monday (Part 1) and Wednesday (Part 2) on YouTube.com/wigs.

And should you watch it, despite the credits, just know that I am the director the way Sara Lee is the actual woman to bake your cake.

By the way, when the whole thing was finished, guess who showed up? Jon.

“How’d it go?” he asked.

“You said you’d be with me!”

“Ah, you could handle it.”

I wanted to hit him, but realized I would have to hit an assistant director first.